On Monday, May 2, the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (the team behind the Smithsonian Learning Lab) as well as educators from across the Institution, hosted the 56 Teachers of the Year in an all-day professional development event as part of their "Washington Week." This annual event, now in its 10th year, has become a favorite of the museum educators I collaborate with here at the Smithsonian. This year, we were able to offer a wide range of breakout sessions to the teachers, from utilizing visual thinking strategies at the "WONDER" exhibition to exploring how scientific research was translated into a student activity at the National Museum of Natural History, and even how the National Museum of American History uses theatrical performance to make history come alive.
As I scanned the the list of the 2016 Teachers of the Year and read more about their disciplines, specialties, grade levels, and regions, I realized that they could not be more diverse. But what comes across after spending the day with these teachers are the following similarities:
- They're always thinking about their students.
2016 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, Mairi Cooper, an Orchestra Director at Fox Chapel Area High School expanded on the idea of "Flat Stanley" and has "brought her students with her" everywhere this week. As I overheard conversations throughout the day's event, many began with the phrase, "My kids would love this..."
- They're life-long learners.
2016 New York Teacher of the Year, Dana McDonough, is a 2nd grade teacher and shared that she had an "A-ha!" moment around improving her own teaching practice after meeting with the National Museum of American History's Spark!Lab team. She intends to introduce her students to the idea of thinking like an inventor to respond to local and global issues. As 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year, Nate Bowling, so perfectly put it: the teachers were given the opportunity to "stretch their nerd muscles" at the Smithsonian.
- They're advocates for the teaching profession.
In a recent Washington Post article, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year from Connecticut, Jahana Hayes, was quoted: "I really think that we need to change the narrative, change the dialogue about what teaching is as a profession. We've spent a lot of time in the last few years talking about the things that are not working. We really need to shift our attention to all the things that are working." I also learned that several of the Teachers of the Year advise their local and statewide education decision-makers, in their free time. I found myself wondering...when do these rockstars sleep?
As students' biggest fans, life-long learners themselves, and advocates for the teaching profession, the 2016 Teachers of the Year represent the user group that we hope to serve with the Learning Lab.
The Smithsonian Learning Lab was created alongside teachers at every stage of its development. For the past three years, Teachers of the Year, as well as teachers that we have connected with through presentations, professional development workshops, local field trip visits, and even Twitter and Google Hangout conversations, have helped us shape how teachers and students will access the Smithsonian digitally when the Learning Lab is officially launched this June.
In my role as Learning Initiatives Specialist at the Center for Learning and Digital Access, I am fortunate to have opportunities to celebrate and support all that teachers do each and every day. I am in awe of the types of collections and student activities that teachers have created during the first six months of our public beta phase, which began just this school year in October of 2015. I can't wait to see what teachers continue to create for their students using the enormous resources of the Smithsonian!
Image: Teachers of the Year, including Jahana Hayes, this year's National Teacher of the Year, along with Smithsonian educators play CURIO, the Smithsonian Learning Lab collectible card game, at the 2016 Teacher of the Year Day at the Smithsonian. CURIO is a trading card game that uses resources available from the Learning Lab to encourage the discovery of patterns and connections in the creation of personal collections.